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Recorder Facts

15 Interesting Facts About The Recorder

A lot of people recognise the recorder from their early days at school. Compared to other musical instruments, it mostly resembles a child’s toy rather than something you make actual music with. But however some might put it, the recorder is a real musical instrument, and it has a long and interesting history backing up its legitimacy. That said, here are a few intriguing facts about this rather curious instrument that you might know about. 

Recorder Facts

1. The instrument’s name used to make sense.

Recorder Facts

Right now, its name doesn’t sound sensical, doesn’t it? But back in its early history, the name “recorder” did make sense because it came from the Latin recordari, meaning “to recall” or “remember.” People considered it a good instrument for “recording,” which back then actually meant “to practice.” It’s only during the modern age that we started associating the word “recording” with something technological. 

2. It makes a notable appearance in a Shakespearean play.

That play was Hamlet. During the third act, Hamlet asks a character named Guildenstern to play it for him. When the latter refuses, Hamlet says “Tis as easy as lying.” What this means is that Hamlet refers to a time when Guildenstern fooled him and then asks whether it is easier for Guildenstern to play the instrument than him for a fool. 

Recorder Facts

3. Shakespeare also used the recorder to produce “incidental” music in some of his plays.

The most notable ones are Hamlet, as mentioned previously, and the classic humor-filled A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This was due to its massive popularity during Shakespeare’s time. The world’s most famous playwright using the world’s most famous musical instrument: now that’s a combination.

4. The infamous King Henry VIII was an avid collector of recorders.

Recorder Facts

Often more famous for his failed marriages and his weight rather than his musical ability, Henry VIII did have a certain amount of musical talent as a composer. It was a hobby for him, which led him to collect around 76 recorders before his death in 1547. And he didn’t let them collect dust in storage, either: he actually played them!

5. The word “recorder” was originally used to refer to a flute.

The French changed the name “recorder” to “flute” in the 1600s. The word “flute” itself, however, did refer to a recorder as we know it today but wasn’t actually a word until it was first used in an English poem titled The House of Fame by Geoffrey Chaucer. And when the modern flute popped up, there came a clear distinction between flutes and recorders

6. The largest fully functioning recorder ever made was as tall as a giraffe when propped up.

It is 16 feet (5 metres) long and has holes about 3.3 inches (8.5 centimetres) wide each. It is so large that despite being fully functional, it would be almost impossible to play correctly.

7. It was an instrument meant for kings and nobility.

You might consider a recorder as a child’s toy nowadays, but back in the 16th Century, the best wind musicians were playing recorders to monarchs and upper-class households all around Europe. Not bad for something that looks like a toy now, eh? 

8. The modern flute technically “killed” the recorder.

Recorders were very popular back in the day, but they had a very limited range. This is why flutes eventually overtook recorders in orchestras by the 19th Century because the latter can’t compete with the strong, piercing sound that comes from a flute. You barely see recorders in a modern orchestra because of this, although this has not appeared to harm the instrument’s popularity, thankfully. 

Recorder Facts

9. A bunch of early music enthusiasts saved the recorder from certain extinction.

Recorder Facts

If not for the efforts of some people and several institutions who are interested in pre-classical music, the recorder would’ve been phased out completely. They put up events and performances, such as the one during the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition where old instruments were displayed and played in several concerts.